Blame Barbie?


I was a happy, chubby little girl in a bright yellow polka dot dress.

I'd chosen the dress myself, just like I chose the rest of my wardrobe-- I insisted upon it. And my mom, always in favour of supporting my creative endeavours, allowed me to, even when I ended up in a rather unfortunate (in retrospect) all-pink ensemble, complete with magenta hair scrunchies on my arms (I called them "arm-loads" and explained that they'd be a great new trend).

Of course, my love of clothes translated to a love of Barbies. I had a few, which I played with frequently-- in my room, outdoors, in the bath-- but my cousin and closest confidante, Danielle, had a far superior collection.

Three shelves in her bedroom were dedicated to the dolls. Her mother took great care in lining them up neatly and organizing their clothes and accessories in drawers under Danielle's bed. Those drawers of Barbie clothes were, to me, like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, a treasure trove thousands of times better than the Little Mermaid's, and definitely more exciting than my own drawers of toys (even though my parents treated me very well!).

We spent hours in that room, dressing the dolls, combing their hair, making up storylines for them.

It took me years to notice our beloved dolls didn't look like us.

I was probably about eight when I realized my body was different.

Danielle and I were in ballet class. We had to line up in order of size, with both height and weight taken in to consideration. Madame was frustrated with me, because, thought I was one of the shortest in the class, I weighed the most. She never said it explicitly, but it was made very clear that ballerinas were not supposed to be fat. Therefore, despite my perfect plies and stunning arabesques, I was not supposed to be a ballerina.

I remember crying in Danielle's bed one night, having a sleepover after dance class. "I don't look like the other girls. I don't look like you. I don't look like our dolls. Am I fat?" She snuggled close to me and said, "I don't care, Becca, I love you".

I forgot about my size (and what society seemed to think of it) after that, and didn't think of it again until junior high. Switching to drama, not dance classes, definitely helped. But we still played with dolls.

"This one should be you, because it has long brown hair like you, Becca," Danielle said, handing me a Barbie.

"Okay," I agreed. I sorted through the dolls, mainly blonde and white, an Indian one (she was a Pocahontas Barbie, of course), a couple with black hair and dark skin, and I noticed... "None of them have hair like yours".

Danielle's hair was an unruly chocolate brown mass of curls that added at least a couple inches to her already generous height. Kids bullied her for it, but I always thought she was beautiful.

Apparently Mattel didn't think so: There weren't any tall, curly-haired Barbies. There also weren't any short, pale Barbies with round tummies like mine.

I've read numerous articles recently, about the bald Barbie that's possibly in the works. Fellow journalists are speculating that maybe a body-positive Barbie isn't far behind. "Will there be a fat Barbie next? One with acne? One that's short? How about a lesbian Barbie?" they ponder.

Even if these dolls are released, how soon will that happen? Barbie debuted in 1959 [source], but a black Barbie wasn't introduced until 1980 and the first Indian (Native) doll wasn't introduced until 1993 [source]!

At this rate, it will be decades until we see a fat Barbie-- and by the time that comes, kids will have other influences (like pro-ana websites, Strong4Life, the American government's "war on obesity", the tiny selection of sizes in most clothing stores, shadeism within cultures) to destroy their self-esteem, so it won't make much impact, anyway.

Mattel's exclusively skinny, usually white dolls are ill-advised, but not entirely to blame. Society is. Instead of projecting our own insecurities and sizist ideas on to a doll, let's take responsibility, step up and do something about the damaging impact society has on children's body image.

Image: Tess Munster as a gorgeous plus size Barbie doll! Source.

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